Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, November 24, 2008

Muggles among us

A few years ago I gave a lecture in which I floated the idea that Bishop Spong and his ardent followers (I wish I could sell as many books as he does) should be identified as Muggles. In case you have been in another galaxy for the last ten years, Muggles can be defined in simple terms as the characters in the Harry Potter series who do not believe in magic or wizardry. Extending the notion a bit, we could say that Muggles are unfortunate people who have no ear for poetry, no appreciation of metaphor, no capacity for imagining another dimension of reality. Maybe they didn’t have fairy tales or poems read to them when they were children. They probably don’t like art, theater, or literature either. There are a lot of people like this; it’s a sort of handicap, really, so let’s dial down the ridicule to a gentle level.

This complaint about Bishop Spong has been around for many years and does not originate with me, but I like the Muggle tag because it helps to make the point stick. Why is this important? Because the Bible asks to be read on more than one level. Spong and company are literalists—fundamentalists, really. If the Scripture says that Jesus went “up” to the Father, to them that means he went “up” like a rocket from Cape Canaveral and obviously that can’t be true, so we throw out the whole Ascension story. Etcetera. The idea that the biblical writers knew they were dealing with the transcendent dimension and were deliberately using figurative language seems beyond possibility for Muggles.

Now we have a new group of people to add to the list of Muggles, which confirms my earlier suspicions. The New York Times reports (October 13) that the best-selling atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, is writing a book for children that would explore children’s relationships with fairy tales and encourage them to think about the world scientifically rather then mythologically. Dr. Dawkins said, “I would like to know whether there is any evidence that bringing children up to believe in spells and wizards and things turning into other things—it is unscientific, I think it is anti-scientific.”

Take that, Lord of the Rings lovers! Dante, begone! Don’t clap for Tinkerbelle, you Neanderthals; Hamlet would probably be alive today if he had only taken Prozac.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Let's not lose "Behold!"

Here in Toronto where I am teaching for a term, a fellow faculty member (Leslie Demson) who teaches Hebrew is in league with me to recover the English word "Behold" when reading Scripture. Most modern translations use "see" or "look" or even "here is" (as in Pilate's "here is the man" instead of the long-hallowed "Behold the man"-- ecce homo).

But "see" and "look" don't perform the same linguistic function. Marilyn McCord Adams has explained that there is one form of language for human agency, and another for divine agency. If preachers, readers, and teachers of Scripture don't understand this, we are impoverished. Prof. Demson says that "behold" is a revelatory word indicating a different order of reality. I say it is a word of wonder, a word of awe, a word that opens up another dimension. ("And lo!" serves the same function.)

So this Advent, let's say with Isaiah, "Behold your God!" (You don't have to give up your modern translation. Just say "behold" instead of "look.")